MINI Countryman SUV
"With a big boot and lots of space, the distinctive-looking MINI Countryman is a well rounded and fun-to-drive family car"
- Fashionable MINI image
- Economical diesels
- Enjoyable to drive
- Expensive optional extras
- Looks a little ungainly
- Unproven reliability
Reusing a name from the distant past of Britain’s motoring heritage, the Countryman first appeared in 2010 as MINI’s SUV offering. Although purists voiced dismay at the idea of a MINI straying so far from its compact beginnings, the Countryman was an immediate sales success, striking a chord with buyers the world over.
The latest generation of Countryman builds on the considerable success of its predecessor, combining the approachable and friendly yet fashionable appeal of the MINI hatchback with the practicality and usefulness of a far bigger car. It’s grown considerably compared to the previous model – it’s now longer than the Mazda CX-3 and much bigger than the Nissan Juke. It also marks the first appearance of plug-in hybrid technology in a MINI – the Countryman Cooper S E ALL4 shares its petrol-electric power system with the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer.
The latest Countryman could be fairly described as more grown-up than the last car – it certainly exudes a more upmarket feel inside and out. You’ll either be delighted or discouraged by the way it looks, with its long bonnet, bulbous wheelarches and long rear overhang.
Despite using an evolution of the brand’s traditional hexagonal front grille, this Countryman doesn’t boast MINI’s usual cuteness, but it certainly stands out from the crowd and has an air of adventure about it. It looks expensive, too, thanks to chrome detailing and LED lighting. Cooper S and John Cooper Works models add bigger wheels and more dynamic styling.
Unfortunately, nothing comes for free and the latest Countryman is more expensive than the previous one – its price is aligned more with the Audi Q2 and BMW X1 than the Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar. This can be partly excused by the fact that the Countryman shares much of its running gear with the X1, as well as the lower MINI Clubman estate.
This ought to be good news for keen drivers – these cars are known for their entertaining road manners – while not disappointing fans of fuel-efficiency, either. The Countryman’s engines are familiar from other cars wearing the MINI name and all offer reasonable economy without sacrificing performance.
Countryman buyers have a broad choice of engines to choose from. The least expensive is a 134bhp three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol which manages up to 42.8mpg without being unbearably slow. The Cooper S will please those who need a little more power – its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine offers 189bhp.
If you expect to cover more than 12,000 miles a year, you may prefer the 148bhp diesel engine of the Cooper D Countryman, which can manage up to 56.5mpg. ALL4 four-wheel drive is optional, but is intended more for poor-weather security than for demanding off-road excursions.
For absolute economy, though, neither of the diesels can hold a candle to the plug-in hybrid MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4, which we've reviewed separately. It combines the 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine with an electric motor, producing a total of 221bhp and is faster than the Cooper S, yet is claimed to manage up to 156.9mpg. The best news is that it doesn’t compromise the Countryman’s nimble nature. It's also in the lowest Benefit-in-Kind banding so will appeal to company-car users but its £32,000 price makes it expensive for private buyers.
So, even if the looks and price don’t appeal to all, there’s little doubt that the engines have what it takes and build quality is excellent, too. Throw in an enjoyable driving experience and MINI is likely to attract new customers. Thanks to its growth spurt, it’s a lot more family-friendly than the previous model and standard equipment has become more generous and more reflective of people’s needs, with features like sat nav now being standard across the range. As well as the entry-level Classic trim level, there's the racy Sport and luxurious Exclusive to choose from, each of which are available with different engine options.
Every MINI has its following and every Countryman appeals to different tastes. The practical entry-level Cooper has the urban school-run covered, the diesels and plug-in hybrid will suit motorway-roaming business drivers and the John Cooper Works delivers strong performance. It’s not cheap – and prices can rise still further once a few choice options have been ticked – but a five-star Euro NCAP rating shows that no Countryman skimps on safety. This makes it a sensible place to put your money – and your family.